Leggings and yoga pants are worn by millions of people around the world every day. They are a wardrobe staple for many women as they are comfortable and practical but they can cause numerous health issues.
Your favorite pair of leggings may not be as good for human health as you think. Trends usually come and go in fashion. But tights pants have been around for a long time.
They are one of the top-selling clothing items worldwide. Leggings are very popular but have disastrous drawbacks many people don't know about.
Many recent studies have shown the dangers of wearing leggings regularly. To help you make better purchasing decisions as an informed consumer, here are the proven reasons why leggings are bad for your health.
1. Leggings aren't breathable
One of the major downsides of leggings is their limited breathability. They don't allow airflow effectively. They heat private parts and irritate the skin if you wear them for too long.
The large majority of leggings are made of cheap synthetics materials that aren't breathable. Textile fabrics such as polyester, nylon, spandex, or elastane are moisture-wicking and water-repellant but capture heat.
A better alternative is to wear pants made of breathable materials such as natural organic cotton, renewable lyocell, or modal made from cellulose fibers. They aren't the best to wick away sweat during an intense workout but they are much better for your health.
Leggings made of organic cotton are extremely soft, breathable, comfortable, better for people and the environment. They are biodegradable and don't contribute to plastic pollution.
Here are some of the best sustainable fashion brands making leggings with organic cotton:
- PACT, a leading sustainable fashion brand using only organic fabrics and Fair Trade factories to design stylish essential clothing.
- Groceries Apparel, a California-based label producing activewear and swimwear locally in Los Angeles with natural and recycled fabrics.
- Hanna Andersson, a selection of clothes, swimsuits, and pajamas for baby, toddler, boys, girls, and even adults designed to last.
- Indigo Luna (AU), an Australia ethical fashion brand selling yoga basics and intimates made of organic materials.
2. They rub and crack the skin
Tight clothing tends to rub against your skin frequently. This causes friction on your skin and cracks its outer layer, causing soreness, dehydration, and inflammation.
“When wearing leggings or other tight clothing, you have to worry about the friction this causes on your skin.”
- Dr. Joshua Zeichner, MD, New York City Dermatologist
3. Sweating in leggings cause infection
Dr. Joshua Zeichner explains that tight-fitting clothes like workout leggings can trap sweat and clog pores. People that wear tight exercise clothing, like leggings, are more susceptible to ringworm when they sweat.
Tight pants increase the risk of infection on the skin and genitals, particularly fungal infections. Tightness restricts air circulation on the skin and causes heavy perspiration around the groin.
Leggings increase yeast creation over the skin and cause sweating, swelling, skin rashes, redness, itchiness, and infections. Urinary tract infection is another common type of infection caused by leggings.
4. Leggings reduce fertility
A medical study by Professor John Dickinson links tight clothing to endometriosis causing infertility in women.
“If the garments are so tight-fitting as to produce even a small sustained rise of intra-abdominal solid tissue pressure, retrograde menstruation is likely to occur when the garments are removed and when the salpingo-uterine junction is relaxed between uterine contractions.”
- Christopher John Dickinson, a British physician, and clinical researcher
Tight pants lead to lower fertility for men as well. High temperatures cause constant damage to testicles and lower sperm count. Sperm doesn't mature when genitals get too hot.
In a study of 656 men, researchers at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health found that tight-fitting clothes have long-term negative effects on sperm concentration.
"Potentially switching from tight to loose might help some men who are on the lower edge of sperm production. It shows that tight pants have an effect and there is a relatively cheap and easy thing that men can attempt to do to try and improve their situation."
- Allan Pacey, University of Sheffield Professor of Andrology
5. Wearing leggings cause acne
Leggings are a constant controversial subject in women's health. But one thing is certain. When sweating for too long in leggings, athleisure wear, or yoga pants, bacteria can develop on the skin.
"Sweat that sits on the body for extended periods leads to the overgrowth of bacteria that can exacerbate acne."
- Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Washington D.C. Dermatologist
Sweating contributes to a specific type of acne breakout also known as sweat pimples. When sweat glands are blocked, they cause pimple-like bumps on your skin.
6. Wash leggings daily or get sick
Dr. Joshua Zeichner says "I look at tight-fitting leggings the same way that I look at underwear. They really should be changed and washed daily.”
You need to wash your leggings regularly, especially if you wear them every day. Just like underwear, it's best to wash them often to get rid of germs. Otherwise, you might get sick from them.
If you shower every day and only wear leggings at home, you don't have to worry too much. Most of us like wearing the same pair for days in a row. But leggings are even more problematic when you come into contact with people or surfaces in public areas.
7. They can get painful
Leggings can cause discomfort as they compress your legs, knees, and abdomen. They create pressure, holding your abdomen, squeezing your muscles, nerves, joints, and restricting your internal organs.
Back muscles and hip bones movement are obstructed by tight clothing. If you wear the wrong size, they prevent respiration and proper digestion.
Leggings can create discomfort around your groin area and thighs. They are a major cause of temporary swelling and irritation. Tight pants are rarely the primary cause of pain but often make symptoms worse.
8. They contain toxic chemicals
Toxic fabrics are bad for your skin and your health. Unfortunately, many pairs of leggings are made of textiles that contain hazardous chemicals, threatening human health.
Researchers at Stockholm University have recently published a thesis about the potential health issues caused by toxic chemicals found in 60 garments from clothing chains.
"Exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of allergic dermatitis, but more severe health effects for humans as well as the environment could be related to these chemicals. Some of them are suspected or proved carcinogens and some have aquatic toxicity."
- Giovanna Luongo, Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry at Stockholm University
Most dyes used in the fashion industry are highly toxic. Textile and garment involve chemical-intensive processes necessary in washing, bleaching, dying, and treatment.
Many fabrics undergo harsh chemical treatments to make them water repellant, wrinkle-free, flame resistant, or stain resistant.
Through skin contact, ingestion, or inhalation, toxic chemicals may lead to cancer, hormonal dysfunction, insomnia, nausea, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, immunity harm, anorexia, and behavioral problems.
9. Synthetic fabric production is harmful
The process of making synthetic fabrics isn't environmentally friendly. And a lot of leggings sold in the market today are made of harmful fabrics like polyester and nylon.
Many workers in textile production facilities are exposed to dust and fumes that irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and skin. The related health effects of synthetic polymer manufacturing are catastrophic.
In a recent scientific research paper, Dr. Metin Akgün and Dr. Metin Gorguner revealed that exposure to toxic substances on the lungs leads to long-term complications.
"Inhalation of many gases, mist, aerosols, fumes, or dust may cause irritant lung injury, asphyxiation, or other systemic effects. The use of industrial chemicals with potential toxicity has been on the rise. Accidental spills, explosions, and fires can result in complex exposures to such substances, the health consequences of which are not well-known."
On factory floors, workers are exposed to and breathe in the runoff of dyes and corrosive finishing. Poisonous substances leak into the nearby environment, polluting water sources and agricultural systems.
10. Plastic microfiber pollution
The negative effects of leggings made of synthetic materials don't end there. Leggings generally aren't biodegradable or compostable.
They take hundreds of years to decompose, releasing greenhouse and toxic gases into the atmosphere.
They contribute to the high amount of clothing waste that ends up in landfills every year.
Synthetic materials release plastic microfibers into the environment that pollute entire food chains, kill land and marine wildlife, and endanger human health.
These plastic microfibers are consumed by fish and birds and end up in our food, lungs, and stomachs.
Every year, more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced, as reported by the United Nations. 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into the ocean annually. Less than 10% of all plastic is recycled.
If current trends continue, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish by 2050. And the plastic industry could account for 20% of the world’s total oil consumption.
It's time to rethink how we produce and consume clothes. One of the best ways to be more sustainable and healthy is to choose eco-friendly and high-quality fabrics.
About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.